By Jon Johnson
What makes the New York Comic Con an excellent experience is the diverse areas of interest for each and every attendee, whatever that may be. With the release this week of KING OF THE COMICS: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF KING FEATURES SYNDICATE, a proud section of sequential art history gets a grand focus.
KING OF THE COMICS is a beautiful hardcover collection from IDW, edited by Dean Mullaney, and including such cartoonists as Ray Billingsley, Jeff Keane, Brian Walker, Hilary Price and Patrick McDonnell. All appeared both at the IDW booth on Thursday, signing copies of the book before participating in a panel discussion of the same name. The panel, hosted by King Feature's editor Brendan Burford, was an intriguing overview of the syndicate's history, the art form and future. The panelists each gave a brief of their work, entertaining the audience with their personal entrances into cartooning. Jeff Keane and Brian Walker are legacy creators, taking over The Family Circus and Hi and Lois from their respective fathers. Patrick McDonnell was inspired by many earlier strips, of which he occasionally honors in his strip Mutts. Hilary Price wanted to do something with more soul than her corporate job and jumped in with both feet, making Rhymes with Orange a 'must read'. Ray Billingsley says that his strip Curtis is probably more than a little autobiographical and broke some barriers that were likely still existing even when the strip debuted in 1988.
It was an often funny and very engaging hour that was sadly lightly attended and likely overlooked by the majority. Luckily enough, with the KING OF THE COMICS book, those that missed the panel can dive right into the rich depth of what King Features have offered and continues to.
Prior to the panel, I spoke with a few of the cartoonists and their editor all of whom were excited about the new book and what they see as a very significant, and more importantly, alive and well portion of comics and cartooning. In fact, to see many of King Features' strips, you can on the web at www.comicskingdom.com, at your leisure and without all that useless content usually seen in the rest of the newspaper. There you might learn that Beetle Bailey was the last strip personally approved by William Randolph Hearst, that Bil Keane's Family Circus had more input from his wife than might be assumed, or the craziness that occurred with Dik Browne's collaboration on Hi and Lois with Mort Walker, all of which was mentioned at the panel.
KING OF THE COMICS is available now from IDW and your friendly, local retailer. It's perfect for fans of the comic strip, Americana, and laughter.